Stepping up to help, again

The announced closure of Education Corporation of America (ECA) — which runs several national for-profit school chains such as Virginia College, Brightwood College and Ecotech Institute — will leave about 19,000 students unable to complete their programs. But, once again, community colleges are stepping up to help those students.

The company said in a letter to students that its closure is due to the impending loss of accreditation and additional U.S. Education Department requirements, which have made it difficult for the company to raise more money to operate the schools while it tried to reorganize. ECA has more than 70 schools in 21 states.

Within hours of the announcement, a growing number of community colleges began to reach out to students at those schools. Midlands Technical College (MTC) in South Carolina is inviting former Virginia College students to a College Night enrollment event on December 19, where students can learn about its more than 120 academic and career programs and about financial aid options. The college is waiving its $35 application fee for these students.

“MTC’s health sciences, business and public services, HVAC and industrial programs, as well as corporate and continuing education programs, are all a perfect fit for the displaced Virginia College students,” MTC said on its website.

Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College will hold an outreach session for Virginia College students on December 13, as will Tennessee’s Volunteer State Community College (Vol State). The sessions will include discussions about financial aid and transferring credits. Chattanooga State Community College will offer a similar session on December 10.

Such information sessions are critical to these students, who are experiencing the trauma associated with their school closing without warning, said Chad Jaynes, manager of technical training at Chattanooga State.

“We want to create a sense of welcome and give students any help they need to continue and/or complete their education,” Jaynes said.

Previous experience

Vol State and other community colleges across the country already have some experience in such transitions. They offered similar help to students after the for-profit Corinthians Colleges closed in 2015 and ITT Tech in 2016.

Still, it’s not an easy task. For example, credit transfers are a challenge, in part, because of accreditation differences between for-profits and public and private not-for-profit colleges and universities, Vol State officials noted.

Criticism from Congress

Virginia Rep. Bobby Scott, the top Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee who is expected to serve as its chair next year, urged Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to rethink her decision to reinstate the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools. ECA comprised about half of the accreditor’s schools.

“We have repeatedly warned about the risks low-quality, for-profit education companies and irresponsible accreditors pose to students and taxpayers across the country,” Scott said in a statement. ECA’s announcement “is another painful reminder of those risks.”

The closing of the chain of schools will leave thousands of students with non-transferrable credits, crippling debt and few of the job opportunities they were promised, the congressman said.

“Students, their families and the federal government rely on accreditors to set a standard for quality higher education and determine which institutions should be eligible to receive federal student aid,” Scott said.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily and serves as publications director for the American Association of Community Colleges.